Best time to travel to California

Whale Watching

From North to South, California observes the giant marine creatures migration every year

Whale Watching in California 2020 - Best Time
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© Bill Bishoff

Every fall and winter, about 20,000 gray whales make a long journey from the Bering Sea and Alaska in the north to Baja California, in the south. California's coast is a great place to observe this massive migration. The whales get so close to the shore that no boat ride is required to observe them. Migrating gray whales, dolphins and killer whales can be seen from mid-December through mid-April. There are also opportunities to see blue whales, humpbacks, and other whale species outside the migration season.

Every March, Fort Bragg holds a Whale Festival to mark large pods of gray whales passing down the coast. They pass the coast of Northern California from December to February and head back north March to May.

Mendocino Coast is a premier whale-watching spot in California, offering many opportunities to observe these giant mammals every morning during migration season. There are plenty of whale-watching trails in Mendocino Headlands State Park and around Point Arena Lighthouse.

San Francisco witnesses hundreds of gray whales passing along the shore from January through April. Point Reyes in Marin County is the prime location to spot them. Humpback whale-watching season lasts from November through March. Tours to Farallon Islands are especially popular. Orcas, humpbacks, blue, and sperm whales are especially abundant there.

Whale Watching Tour at San Francisco Bay 2020
Whale Watching Tour at San Francisco Bay

Monterey Bay enjoys two whale-watching seasons: mid-December to mid-April for gray whales, dolphins and killer whales, and mid-April through mid-December for humpback, blue whales, and killer whales. Visitors can observe them from the shore in Monterey Submarine Canyon and Santa Cruz, which​ features whales off coast at any time of the year.

Monterey Bay Whale Watch tour 2020
Monterey Bay Whale Watch tour
Whale watching in Monterey 2020
Whale watching in Monterey
Whale Watching in California - Best Season 2020

Channel Islands National Park offers premier whale and dolphin watching in the Santa Barbara Channel. Twenty-nine species of sea mammals have been spotted here by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, including gray, blue, humpback whales, common, bottlenose or Risso’s dolphins, and sea lions. Island Packers offers 3-hour tours year-round.

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Naturalist Corps volunteers support a whale watching expedition. 2020
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Naturalist Corps volunteers support a whale watching expedition.

Los Angeles and Long Beach enjoy different types of whales passing along during different seasons. Gray whales can be spotted during winter and spring migration season. November–March is a good time to spot humpback and minke whales, dolphins and sea lions. Harbor Breeze Cruises depart from Long Beach harbour​ several times per day.

Orange County offers cruises out of Newport Harbor and Dana Point, that is home to large pods of whales, dolphins, and sea lions. Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching offers 2-hour tours all year. Newport Landing Whale Watching offers tours three times per day. On Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula, Davey’s Locker provides whale-watching cruises several times per day. The underwater Newport Canyon is whales' favourite​ feeding ground. The best period is from December through April, though there is plenty to see here all year round.

Gray Whale flukes up off Dana Point 2020
Gray Whale flukes up off Dana Point

Over 20,000 gray whales pass San Diego from mid-December to mid-March. Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma Peninsula is the most popular observation post. In January, as many as eight grays can be seen every hour. This month features "Whale Watch Weekend" programs with kids' activities and special educational presentations.

San Diego Whale Watch 2020
San Diego Whale Watch